Mum's panic attacks were actually symptoms of brain tumour growing for 20 years

Back in December 2018, Catherine Wilcockson, 37, suffered a blackout, felt tired and panicked at her daughter’s nativity play.

Initially, she was diagnosed with panic attacks and derealisation and prescribed antidepressants.

But six months later, she discovered it was actually due to a brain tumour, which had been growing in her head for 20 years.

The tumour was found in May 2019, when she had a sudden seizure while she was asleep and fell off her bed and smashed her head on the ground.

The mum says her daughters Shani, then nine, and Christie, then 15, saved her life after they rang their grandfather Terry for help who called an ambulance.

She was rushed to Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, South Yorks., where a CT scan revealed she had a tumour in her brain the size of two apples.

Speaking about her symptoms before her tumour was found, Catherine, from Sheffield, South Yorks., said: ‘It was an absolute nightmare – I couldn’t understand why I was feeling the way I did.

‘I got this awful feeling come over me – I felt really panicky and like the world was closing down on me.

‘I was blacking out for short periods of time but it kept happening over and over.

‘It was quite scary and I realised something must be wrong.

‘I couldn’t tell you what happened, one night I just woke up on the floor – I was confused and my girls looked terrified.

‘If not for my little girls I wouldn’t be alive today – they saved my life.’

Looking back now, she said she is glad it was eventually found as she continued to drive and go about her day-to-day life despite her symptoms.

She recalled: ‘Looking back on it, it’s even worse because I was putting myself and others in danger. I wasn’t suffering with panic attacks, they were seizures.

‘I was driving every day, I was with my girls, it could have gone so wrong.’

Catherine was told she had the cancerous astrocytoma brain tumour grade 2 at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, in Sheffield.

It had likely been slowly growing in her brain for at least 20 years – as it normally presents in children.

A month later, on 18 June 2019, doctors performed the life-saving surgery which left her with 34 staples in her head.

The hairdresser said: ‘The surgeon was outstanding – I couldn’t praise him enough.

‘To do something so terrifying but make you feel confident and positive is an amazing thing.

‘He kept me positive throughout and I felt safe – but it was so scary.

‘It’s a surreal experience to have someone open your head while you’re awake.’

Almost exactly a year on since her operation, the mum has kept in good spirits after successfully undergoing radiotherapy for six weeks and chemotherapy for six months.

In March of this year, she had a double celebration as she was told her tumour had shrunk to 5% of its original size on the day of Shani’s 10th birthday.

She said: ‘Since the surgery I’ve just stayed positive.

‘It’s been a surreal year – from the diagnosis to coronavirus – but I choose to stay optimistic.

‘I could have died, but I’m here. And I’ve been able to spend so much time with my girls who mean the world to me.

‘I celebrated my daughter’s 10th birthday – which is something I won’t take for granted.

‘This year has been a complete whirlwind and roller coaster but I know I have to keep going forward – for me and for my girls.’

The mum says she wants to inspire others who may be faced with the numbing news that they have a devastating disease.

She said: ‘I want to tell others who might be going through the same thing that they can get through this too.

‘I remember all of the news I read was always so negative and bleak but you can come across the other end of this devastating news as strong as ever.’

Catherine is working with the charity Brain Tumour Research to share her story and, together with Shani, is taking part in its ‘Wear A Hat Day With Flowers’ this Friday.

The day will see people wearing their favourite hats adorned with flowers to raise money for the cause.

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